There are grey hairs in my beard, dirt under my fingernails and a shovel in my hands. A pile of weeds sits at my feed. Removing them was strangely therapeutic. My partner tells me the veggies we’ve planted are sprouting and I’m excited about the prospect.
This isn’t what I expected 35 to look like. But I’m not surprised. I’ve had enough of them over the years to know that picking any point in the future, by age or year, is like looking through a leaflet at a travel agent and saying “ah yeah”. You can have ideas about a given destination, but you’ll only know what you’re in for once you get there.
35 is an island between larger chunks of time. I’m no longer ‘young’ and not yet ‘middle age’ – but definitely drifting that way. Aside from the increase in exercise-related injuries, I don’t mind it here. I was more concerned in the lead up that’s for sure. I feared ‘getting old’ which is no doubt the result of a culture obsessed with staying forever young.
When we’re too focused on what we’re giving up, growing older is going to be depressing. Where as the last few years have shown me that the hands of time also give. So it’s more of a trade of sorts. I’ve given up my youthfulness – fitness, strength and higher levels of energy – for wisdom, self-acceptance and progress in other areas of my life.
When I was younger I believed life was a sprint. I berated myself for not having achieved enough soon enough. I worried that time was ‘running out’ where I now see it was adding up. I stayed the course, I chipped way, and it paid off. The last year in particular has given me a few things to celebrate:
- Leveraging my work here to start a counselling business
- Moving house
- Starting work as a Therapeutic Youth Worker; and having my writing about the experience shared in the organisation’s annual report
- Going on the TV show, SBS Insight to speak about the topic of ‘masculinity’ – and how I moved away from defining myself by my physique
It has been great to make some big moves, but they’ve also brought their own challenges. More moves, more problems – or something like that… What I mean is that these initial steps forward have also revealed just how expansive the world is and how far I have yet to go. For example, while starting my business and getting my first clients was crossing a huge threshold, there’s so much to do to scale it into a full-time operation.
It’s hard not to let out a sigh in defeat and ask myself if it’s even worth bothering. Are my dreams too big? As someone with ADHD (and currently not medicated) I carry a sense of underachievement that’s heavier than what most people deal with. The remedy I’ve been trying to implement is to celebrate my wins, regardless of how small they are, and actively practice self-compassion rather than comparison. This quote I recently came across online hit the nail on the head: When you gave 40% and that’s all you had to give, you actually gave 100%.
There’s also this gem from Alan Watts:
We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.
This one isn’t new. It is featured in my book, Living in Cream which I wrote several years ago. But it’s always a good reminder to stop and smell the roses – and just enjoy myself. I did exactly this while celebrating my birthday by seeing a local band that I’ve become close friends over the last six years. I was invited on stage and although I initially declined, the moment had other plans for me. I got up and let the music move me in front of 300 or so people. It was quite special to reconnect with my performative flame that’s been flickering with age.
Sadly, a few days later when I saw a stranger online post a comment and video mocking me. My dear friend, Matt gave me the advice that as we go further down the path of development, the universe tests our commitment to ourselves. And that people who don’t have such courage or freedom within themselves will put down others that do rather than face their own blockages. He then gave me a framed photo of the very scene with the sneaky note: “fuck the peasants; this is paradise”.
This is something I’m trying to lean into particularly as my new role in out-of-home care has negatively impacted my outlook on the world. It has given me a lot of heaviness to sit with. So self-care and time to switch off has been important. My recent trip to Sydney for my television appearance gave me exactly this opportunity. I caught majestic sunrises from up high above the clouds and walked the breathtaking coastal line around Bondi Beach.
I also made an effort to see some less extravagant sights – a few streets and suburbs – of significance to me. They were markers from the year I lived in Sydney – which was extremely challenging and far from the quality of life I have in Melbourne. I’m not one to dwell on the past, but it’s important to occasionally look back over our shoulders. Recalling what we’ve been through can be a big source of confidence when it comes to taking on what’s ahead.
I have ideas about my future, but again, I’ll know I’ll only know when I get there. Given how things have been unfolding, I’m feeling optimistic. The way a television opportunity sprung out of nowhere reminded me how important staying open to possibility is. This isn’t about ‘abundance affirmations’ or reading The Secret; it’s about being proactive and curious about opportunities. A mantra I’ve picked up from Catherine Deveny’s memoir True North, is that of keeping focused on my true north and moving ahead towards what feels right. Catherine writes:
People’s everythings look different. But they are their everything all the same. We’re all doing the best we can.
There is also the memory of a rather cryptic conversation I had with my father seven years ago in 2015. I had just moved back from Tonga to my home city of Brisbane. I was struggling to reintegrate into my old life and also decide on my next move. My father called me from Sri Lanka after speaking to someone he described as a ‘wise man’. He offered me the assurance that everything was going to be okay. Specifically, in May things would change. In May of the following year they would be even better. And by the time I’m 35, I would be on my way to living my best life. Well, in May they certainly did change. I moved to Sydney. The following year I moved to Melbourne where my life took a better turn. And now I’m at 35 writing this post.
I’m also about to start my second book, Home. After a few false starts, I now have acquired the 9 years of journals required to complete the project. Like writing Living in Cream was, I know it will be a cathartic and transformative experience as I revisit what I learned through these challenges and reflect on how I’ve also changed. That’s really been the theme of this year: change. Like a snake, we shed ‘skins’ – the things that no longer serve us or we just outgrow as we make way for the new (hence the new tattoo).
Thank you for reading. More greys, and hopefully veggies, to come!
More photos below, including shots from Sculptures by the Sea.